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Ben Webster: Centennial Celebration

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Remembered for his seminal solos on such classics as "Cotton Tail" and "All Too Soon" as much as for his historic clashes with boss Duke Ellington, hot-tempered saxophonist Ben Webster's legacy truly stands the test of time. The year 2009, being the centennial of the tenor titan's birth, Concord Records marks the occasion with this 9-track compilation taken from four different sessions spanning the years 1956 to 1963.

Borrowed from Soulmates (Riverside, 1963)—his collaboration with Austrian piano whiz Joe Zawinul—"Like Someone In Love" is one of the tracks that garners especial attention. Exemplifying that singularly cool eloquence and bulky, breathy tone, it features the Kansas City-born blower in a superb solo that commands reverence for both the intrinsic coherence and emotional depth of the earnest storytelling it displays. With few, carefully spewed out motives and phrases, he arrives at conjuring a most perfect melodic solo. Interestingly, the belaboring outbursts that tainted his reputation paved the way to a generosity and warmth in his music making.

Indeed, the poignant, buttery tone, undulant vibrato, and soul-fathoming lines betray a sensitivity witnessed by few privileged colleagues. Guitarist Jim Hall, who performs on the two closing live tracks—"Caravan" and "Georgia on My Mind"—perhaps sums it up best: "He started telling me what Tatum was like—he loved to talk about the great ones he knew who were gone—and the next thing I knew, he was crying." Another case in point: the emotion oozing out of his horn on Kern and Hammerstein's ballad, "All The Things You Are," could not get any more touching, especially in the last chorus of his delectably debonair solo.

A ray of light, Centennial Celebration may very well be the most effective cure against the current morosity plaguing the world.

Track Listing: Like Someone In Love; My One And Only Love; Soulmates; All The Things You Are; Lula; Travelin' Light; Have You Met Miss Jones?; Caravan; Georgia On My Mind.

Personnel: Ben Webster: tenor sax; Joe Zawinul: piano (1, 3, 6); Richard Davis: bass (1, 6); Philly Joe Jones: drums (1, 3, 6); Art Tatum: piano (2, 4, 7); Bill Douglass: drums (2, 4, 7); Red Callender: bass (2,4,7); Thad Jones: cornet (3); Sam Jones: bass (3); Benny Carter: alto sax (5); Barney Bigard: clarinet (5); Shorty Sherrock: trumpet (5); Jimmy Rowles: piano (5, 8, 9); Dave Barbour: guitar (5); Leroy Vinegar: bass (5); Mel Lewis: drums (5); Red Mitchell: bass (8, 9); Frank Butler: drums (8, 9); Jim Hall: guitar (8, 9).

Title: Centennial Celebration | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Concord Music Group

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